Creativity Is Risky

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.” –Salman Rushdie

May 12, 2016 — As visitors to this blog know, I self-financed, wrote and published Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World, a multimedia and music-infused e-zine to draw attention to threats to free speech after Al Qaeda terrorists murdered 11 French satirists in January 2015. The magazine continues to be relevant what with attacks on journalists and citizens at Trump rallies (see below), acts of violence against writers around the world, and my encounter with Salman Rushdie a couple weeks ago.

“Creativity Is Risky” features Rushdie prominently.

Jim Ylisela, a Chicago investigative journalist, author and my Northwestern journalism professor, gracefully accepted my invitation to write the e-zine’s epilogue, using Rushdie’s quote above as his introduction.

Needless to say I was eager to show my e-zine to Rushdie after his recent talk at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City. After pointing out the epilogue, I told him I had reported on his support for Charlie Hebdo, which won PEN’s 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage Award. Rushdie then placed my work on top of his own books. His interest in my work — an experiment in multimedia, issues-oriented and immersive content — is a thrill!

Here is our interaction in pictures.

Salman Rushdie signing The Satanic Verses.
Salman Rushdie signs The Satanic Verses.
Salman Rushdie and Sally O'Dowd discuss their shared passion for free speech.
Salman Rushdie and Sally O’Dowd discuss their shared passion for free speech.
Sally O'Dowd shows Jim Ylisela's epilogue to Salman Rushdie, which leads with his quote about free speech.
Sally O’Dowd points to Jim Ylisela’s Creativity Is Risky epilogue, which leads with Mr. Rushdie’s quote:  “Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”
Salman Rushdie places Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World on top of his own books.
Salman Rushdie places Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World on top of his own books. Writer and Harvard professor Lila Azam Zanghaneh looks on.

For more info on the e-zine, please continue reading. Thank you!


March 16, 2016 — We are seeing myriad attempts to thwart free speech via thuggish behavior this election cycle. We’ve all read the headlines and here are just a few examples to refresh our collective memory:

  • Donald Trump called reporters “disgusting” after celebrating primary wins on March 15. Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who had forcibly grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields on March 9 while trying to ask Trump a question, stood on the stage laughing.
  • John McGraw, a Trump supporter in North Carolina, sucker-punched an African-American protester who reportedly was loud but not violent at a March 9 rally. “Next time we might have to kill him,” McGraw said as the protestor was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. Trump offered to pay the legal bills for McGraw who was arrested the next day.
  • A Secret Service agent at a February 29 Donald Trump rally choked and slammed to the ground Time magazine photographer Chuck Morris as he tried toleave the media pen at the event because a protest erupted.

Enter Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World, an interactive and multimedia e-zine that I published with the support of academics, journalists and citizens who care about threats to free speech. While the impetus for the e-zine were the murders of 11 French journalists by two Al Qaeda terrorists, its contents are timeless: “Free speech is life itself,” says Salman Rushdie.

Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World is a multimedia e-magazine featuring original reporting, personal essays, an interactive map on press freedoms, videos and music. It tells a story both sad and hopeful about the state of free speech around the world. It is designed to educate and engage people around the world on issues related to free speech—from violent threats to the more subtle, everyday challenges.

Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World” evolved from a seven-part music-inspired blog series that I wrote to honor Charlie Hebdo and the people around the world who rallied behind it. The e-magazine includes:

  • A book review and images from Catharsis, by Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz, who used cartoons and words to share his trauma and grief after the attacks
  • An analysis of Charlie Hebdo’s mission from Emmanuel Letouzé (Manu), the New York-based French cartoonist and development economist
  • Unique insight tying the historical use of satire to the case of Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who was jailed in Iran and is the subject of Jon Stewart’s movie Rosewater, by French professor Renée Kingcaid
  • An epilogue on the constant, everyday threats to free speech by Chicago investigative journalist Jim Ylisela

Readers of this interactive magazine can also click to watch PEN American Center’s videotaped conversation between The Daily Show’s Jason Jones and Maziar Bahari, engage with a Freedom House map on global press freedoms, and listen to tracks by singer-songwriter Chaz Langley that call for an end to violence and comfort its victims.

My “Creativity Is Risky” team and I invite readers to engage by sharing its content and their opinions using the hashtags #creativityisrisky and #freespeech.

Our team is passionate about this issue, and we want to hear from readers. Where do you see free speech being celebrated or curtailed? Help us create a #freespeech movement.

Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing. You can support the #freespeech movement further by buying a full-color print copy. As one digital reader said on Facebook, “I want a copy for my coffee table.”